My name is Cosmin, and I was born in Romania. When I was just one year old, I was diagnosed with hepatitis B. At the time of my diagnosis, I showed no symptoms of the virus. There was no history of hepatitis B in my family, and my mother had not been exposed to the virus. Moreover, I have a sister who, like me, was unvaccinated for hepatitis B, and despite our childhood wrestling matches, she was never exposed to hepatitis B. Due to my diagnosis, I had frequent visits to the hospital during my childhood, for regular medical check-ups. My parents made every effort to seek treatment at the major medical centers available at the time.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere in Romanian hospitals after the revolution was not very welcoming, especially for a child. I’ll admit that fear nestled deep within my young heart, but my parents, like guardian angels, surrounded me with their unwavering protection. They whispered soothing words of assurance, promising me that everything would be all right. However, the enigma of hepatitis B remained shrouded in silence during those days, leaving my young mind with persisting questions. I believed my parents with all my heart when they told me I would be okay, but the puzzle of our frequent hospital visits still perplexed me. Why, I wondered, did we keep returning to those sterile corridors if everything truly was fine? The answers remained hidden beneath their loving care, and I clung to their promises, finding consolation in their presence, even as the mysteries of life unraveled with time.
In the shadowy recesses of my past, there lies a time I seldom revisit. My mother was the one who often accompanied me to the hospital because my father had to work. Our hospital visits in the capital demanded financial resources, highlighting the challenges we faced. As a child, I grew up with the routine of frequent hospital visits, where they regularly took my blood. It felt like a recurring obligation, similar to visiting a distant and unfamiliar relative, but one I had to embrace. My parents, too, sought solace in uncharted waters. They explored every avenue, from natural remedies to unorthodox methods, driven by a love that knew no bounds. I found myself in a two-year treatment with interferon. At that point, the relentless cycle of medical tests had left me exhausted, and the idea of undergoing liver biopsies filled me with dread. Deep inside, I yearned to remain as I was, feeling as though they were slowly claiming every part of me, piece by piece, while I longed for nothing more than some moments of peace. I have some blurry memories of that time. One year, it demanded three injections per week, and the next, two. Maybe my mind protected me by hiding some of the memories.
Amidst the haze of those Interferon days, there is one memory that refuses to fade—the memory of my liver biopsies. In a time when bravery was my silent ally, I mustered the courage to face those procedures without revealing the fear that coursed through me. During my first liver biopsy, I wasn’t fully anesthetized when they brought me into the operating room, leaving me incredibly vulnerable. After the procedure, I found myself rushing to get up, eager to demonstrate my resilience, but regrettably, this impulsiveness resulted in subsequent admission to intensive care.
Adverse childhood experiences, including medical interventions such as three liver biopsies in my case, can deeply affect a child, leaving enduring effects that extend far beyond the actual events. These circumstances can ignite a sense of heightened vigilance, as these patterns tend to resurface in different life situations. This ongoing state of hypervigilance becomes a means of staying prepared for the possibility of similar challenges in the future. From a tender age, my path was shaped by experiences that left indelible marks on my heart. It wasn’t a childhood like others, filled with carefree days. Instead, it was a period marked by endless medical procedures and tests that sought to reclaim my health. As a child, my deepest desire was simply to experience a childhood unburdened by the weight of medical interventions. Considering these personal aspects, I’ve held a deep desire to work in this field since my childhood. After all those challenging experiences, my test results improved, allowing me to finally escape the frequent hospital visits and unpleasant procedures.
Yet, as one chapter closed, another unfolded. Not long after my own medical journey, my mother began to confront her own health challenges. The journey of my mother took a challenging turn after a surgery that left her grappling with long-term issues. Antibiotic-resistant infections became unwelcome companions on her path, and they ushered in a series of surgeries that stretched across two decades—more than one hundred procedures in total. These infections were presented as recurring pus collections, necessitating surgical intervention. I remember those countless moments when I anxiously waited for my mother to awaken from anesthesia, my heart heavy with worry.
The dream of attending medical school burned with me for years, but I gave up at the last moment, especially due to my mother’s health. I opted for a shorter program in dental technology. In an effort to be near my family, I temporarily shelved my ambitions.
Amid life’s unpredictable twists, fate has gracefully choreographed wonder moments for my soul. Along this magical journey, I encountered my future wife, a captivating soul whose heart brimmed with boundless kindness. Her presence not only brought love into my life but also offered unwavering support and endless affection, filling my days with a profound sense of meaning, romance, and wonder. From this magical love story, our precious girl comes into our lives. Initially, I felt content and excited with my work, but deep down, it was more of a compulsion, and subconsciously, I realized it wasn’t what I truly wanted. In addition to my mother’s health issues, I faced a tried period while undergoing medical tests for hepatitis B and later for hepatitis Delta, receiving results that didn’t provide the reassurance I had hoped for.
Shortly thereafter, I embarked on another chapter in my medical journey, another two years of Interferon treatment. Those were arduous times, marked by physical and emotional trials. Through it all, my wife remained my unwavering pillar of strength. Her support was a beacon of light in the darkness that seemed to loom. During that time, our sweet girl was quite young, and I am certain it must have been a challenging time for my wife. Sincerely, the weight of the situation often overwhelmed me.
Behind the backdrop of these challenging events, my mother remained a beacon of optimism. Despite her health problems and the relentless complications that plagued her, she carried herself with unwavering hope. Sadly, at the tender age of 49, my mother left this world, leaving me with a plethora of unanswered questions. This sad moment with my mother happened a few months after I completed interferon treatment.
In the aftermath of those challenging times, a dormant dream from my childhood began to stir within me. I summoned the courage to reconnect with the aspirations that had been shelved for so long. It was a journey into the depths of my own emotions, and it led me to a profound realization. I decided to embark on a path that related to my heart—a journey into the field of hepatitis B. It was a choice fueled by empathy, born from my own trials and the desire to make a meaningful impact in the lives of others facing similar struggles. In this newfound purpose, I unearthed not just my cherished childhood dream but also a profound calling. It’s a path that allows me to pay tribute to my past and to perpetuate the strength and empathy that have been the pillars of my personal journey.
In 2019, I made the decision to launch an initiative, driven by my desire to share a part of the story I have shared above. It was essential for me to be transparent about my intentions and the specific things I mentioned, as my primary goal was to provide support to people with hepatitis B. As a result, I had the honor of connecting with numerous people with hepatitis B worldwide and with dedicated professionals in the field.
My open-mindedness, curiosity, and unconventional approach were valuable assets, as they led me to encounter my mentors, Carol Brosgart, Robert Gish, and Francesco Negro. I feel profoundly fortunate to have had these esteemed professors in my life, as their inspiration and guidance played a pivotal role in my relentless pursuit of answers to my research questions. This field unquestionably demands unwavering self-belief to navigate successfully and being connected with my mentors enabled me to give my best as a research scientist. Having carried the knowledge that my mother remained unexposed to hepatitis B throughout my upbringing holds profound importance in the context of my project. All information turns into data, and some of the data becomes immunological and knowledge features for me. Given the challenges I’ve faced, I take immense pride in my project, considering it a significant achievement regardless of how its outcomes are judged. I made the conscious decision to share my personal dataset publicly because my primary objective revolves around comprehending specific facets of these infections in newborns, with the goal of preventing their occurrence.
This story is not easy for me to write, but I’ve made the choice to share it, nonetheless. In my journey, I’ve to embrace my own flaws and imperfections, recognizing that they are threads of my humanity. Through this acceptance, I have the strength to learn from my experiences, and with each lesson, I strive to craft a more refined version of myself.
I would like sincerely to express my heartfelt gratitude to my beloved wife, Irina, my cherished family, my wise mentors, and all the wonderful individuals who wholeheartedly supported me throughout this project. I am deeply thankful to the Hepatitis B Foundation for their invaluable support on this journey. I am also appreciative of the courage shown by both myself and my dear mother in facing these challenging experiences and for providing medical data.
At the heart of this narrative, there was a fervent wish that certain aspects of these infections would become better understood. Anyone who might have the misfortune to be exposed to hepatitis B deserves respect and compassion. Behind all the values in hepatitis B tests, there are emotions. Every person affected by hepatitis B needs more- than just medical data: they need information that can empower them to face their journey with resilience and hope.
A collection of photographs shared by Cosmin: